What is it?
In the world of electric vehicles, the premium SUV has quickly become king. It makes sense – EVs can be expensive, which is easier to justify in a premium car, while everyone in this market wants an SUV.
The Audi e-tron was one of the first electric SUVs to market, and now we have this, the e-tron S. It follows a similar recipe to other Audi S models, in that it takes the regular car’s practicality and adds a little more performance, sportier looks and some dynamic tweaks and changes that make it more fun to drive.
While traditionally an S badge might denote more cylinders, displacement and bigger turbos – or a combination of all three – in the world of electric S cars it means we get an extra electric motor. That means there’s a trio, with two on the rear axle and one on the front.
The new motor setup means a new drive system, which is more rear-biased than the regular e-tron. Meanwhile, only the rear motors are engaged in normal driving to improve efficiency. The air suspension has an S-specific tune to improve handling, there are big brakes to improve stopping power, and optimised aerodynamics with wider wheel arches.
What’s under the bonnet?
That triple-motor system is actually the first of its kind in a production vehicle. It uses the rear motor from the standard e-tron 55 on the front axle, and two modified examples of that car’s front motor on the rear.
The result is 489bhp and 973Nm of torque, which are impressive numbers, EV or not, and the result is a 0-60mph time of just 4.5 seconds. The battery, meanwhile, is an 86kWh unit that can return up to 221 miles between charges.
What’s it like to drive?
On first impressions, this feels like any other electric SUV – quiet, refined and responsive. The e-tron is one of the best in the business, having a really solid feel to it, with perfectly judged control weights for the steering and pedal inputs that make it genuinely satisfying to drive even at normal speeds.
However, where the S stands out from the crowd is its surging performance. This is a big, heavy car, so despite the impressive torque figure it’s not neck-snappingly quick off the line, but plant your foot as the lights go green and there’s a punchy surge of acceleration.
It’s surprisingly good fun in corners, too, thanks largely to the combination of a low centre of gravity (the batteries are buried deep in the floor) and the suspension upgrades. And thanks to the wonders of air suspension that extra talent in corners doesn’t come at the sacrifice of a comfortable driving experience.
How does it look?
We’ve gone past the age of electric vehicles with wild styling designed to shout about their eco credentials, and the Audi e-tron is the perfect example of this. It’s about as subdued as an SUV can be, opting for subtle class, yet with a suitably imposing front end.
For the S model, Audi has given the bodywork a pumped up, sporty look. The whole body is 23mm wider to give it a more muscular appearance, while the front and rear bumpers have sharper lines and a rear diffuser has been put in place.
What’s it like inside?
If you’re familiar with the latest Audi interiors you’ll recognise the setup we have here, further proof that the e-tron isn’t some special outlier, it’s just another SUV that happens to be electric. As such, it gets the same tech-heavy, screen-filled cabin we’ve come to love.
It has a dark theme that can be brightened somewhat by brown seats, while there are two central screens and a third ahead of the driver. The lower central screen controls functions such as the climate control, while the upper is the infotainment display. The third is a digital instrument display, with all being clear, high-resolution and easy to use. The surfaces that aren’t screens are all of the highest quality, too, really nailing that premium feel.
What’s the spec like?
The ‘standard’ e-tron S starts at £86,690 and has a healthy equipment list, including 21-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and taillights, S-specific exterior bodywork, heated ‘super sports seats’, leather upholstery, the triple-screen interior and a 10-speaker sound system.
Upgrading to Vorsprung adds a considerable amount to the price. For £102,160, you get 22-inch alloy wheels, digital matrix headlights, panoramic roof, Bang & Olufsen sound system and extra driver assistance tech.
Our test car was a standard model but had about £10k-worth of options, cherry picking some highlights from Vorsprung. At £3,175 the ‘digital matrix’ headlights feel like an expensive upgrade when the standard matrix LED units will be more than up to the job, though if you like listening to music on the road the £1,895 Comfort and Sound pack includes the Bang & Olufsen sound system, which is excellent.
The Audi e-tron is already a very accomplished electric SUV, so giving it a bit more power and slightly more aggressive looks always seemed like a successful recipe on paper. It more than delivers, with the air suspension meaning you don’t need to sacrifice ride quality for improved handling.
It might not feel as crazy fast as you might expect an electric car with such big power figures, but it’s got more than enough performance under your right foot to be fun. And when you want to relax, it’s quiet, refined and relaxing to cruise around. It really is a great all-rounder.
Model as tested: Audi e-tron S
Engine: Triple-electric motors
Max speed: 131mph
0-60mph: 4.5 seconds
Emissions: 0g/km CO2